David Hendon thoughts ahead of the 2022/23 season

I know that the season has already started but it’s been a bit low key over the summer. In about a week’s time it will start in earnest, and David Hendon, writing for Eurosport, is sharing his thoughts about what is at stake for various players this season:

The snooker season will soon be fully awake after a few months in which it’s opened its eyes only to close them again.

The British Open, which gets underway later this month, is only the third event since the new campaign began in June. The calendar has been difficult to plan because of ongoing uncertainty over Covid in China, which means the five lucrative competitions previously staged there remain in cold storage for now.

But suggestions of crisis have been overstated. There are 15 ranking events on this season’s schedule, 12 of which are open to the whole tour, plus the usual elite invitation tournaments and the new World Mixed Doubles Championship.

So players at the top end of the game will soon have plenty to play in while those lower down the rankings have recently been offered a £20,000 earnings’ guarantee by World Snooker Tour to ease some of the financial burden. Discussions are meanwhile ongoing for new events in Europe, with the potential for these to be added to the calendar this season.

But which players will come good when the action finally restarts?

Ronnie O’Sullivan begins the season in a stronger position than ever. World champion for a record equalling seventh time and world no.1, this sporting colossus has never enjoyed a higher profile and it will grow even further when the documentary filmed about him over the last 12 months is aired later this year.

t’s been said many times, but what a career he’s had. His first ranking title came in November 1993, his most recent in May 2022. He has had to face an array of formidable challengers in those three decades, sometimes coming up short but always coming back.

Looking down now from the mountaintop, O’Sullivan has nothing left to prove, which makes him especially dangerous to his main rivals, none of whom can approach the new term with the same relaxed attitude.

Perhaps the greatest unknown quantity is Mark Selby. Last season was a write-off for the four times world champion as he faced up to problems he had long kept bottled up. He is in a better place now but, to complicate things, he recently suffered neck pain which has required treatment.

Selby is ranked third in the official two-year list but factoring in the points which will come off his ranking, including the 500,000 he won at the Crucible in 2021, his provisional end of season position is currently a perilous 24th.

There is plenty of time for that to change before May, but Selby needs to start winning matches soon. Otherwise it is not impossible that he could head to Sheffield in the spring in danger of being relegated from the elite top 16.

Judd Trump suffered what was perhaps an inevitable backwards step last season after three extraordinary campaigns from 2018 to 2021 in which he won 14 ranking titles, plus the Masters.

That hit rate was always going to be hard to keep up. Last season he won one ranking title, the new Turkish Masters, plus the prestigious Champion of Champions and reached the world final, not a bad year but not as impressive as what had come before.

By now it may have been expected, not least by Trump himself, that he would have taken over from O’Sullivan as the sport’s preeminent figure, but he was outplayed by him for long sections of their Crucible final. The challenge for Trump this season is to wrest back trophies but also the limelight.

Those perennial warhorses John Higgins and Mark Williams each produced a high standard last season but were left rueing several near misses between them. Higgins reached six finals but won only one. In three where he finished runner-up he had been a frame from victory, most notably 9-4 up to Neil Robertson in the Tour Championship only to lose 10-9.

Williams won the British Open but lost a decider to Robertson in the Masters semi-finals after the Australian needed two snookers, a last frame thriller to O’Sullivan in the Tour Championship quarter-finals and yet another deciding frame in the World Championship semis where Trump beat him 17-16 in a Crucible classic.

Higgins and Williams are the very opposite of underachievers but these close defeats still sting, even 30 years on from turning pro.

Robertson has been on an extended break after a stellar season in which he won four big titles before coming up short again in Sheffield, losing 13-12 to Jack Lisowski in the second round despite making a maximum break in the final session.

The Melbourne left-hander will play in the mixed doubles competition but has not entered the campaign’s first three tournaments and so won’t be seen in a ranking event until the Northern Ireland Open in October – six months after his Crucible defeat.

This may seem odd but Robertson has enough money and ranking points in the bank to take a lengthy break, and there have been so few events in the meantime that, even if he is rusty, it’s not as if anyone else will be particularly sharp.

The main challenge to the established order seems likely to come from China, with Zhao Xintong, 25, and Yan Bingtao, 22, leading the charge.

Zhao sensationally broke through last season by winning the UK Championship and swiftly followed this up with victory at the German Masters. Things unravelled a little at the end of the campaign when he lost 10-9 from 8-4 up to Higgins at the Tour Championship before a second-round exit at the Crucible.

When players suddenly achieve success, expectations change – their own as much as other people’s. But Zhao is an outstanding talent with an apparent ability to just enjoy what he is doing. He doesn’t have the mental scars of the older players and plays an eye-catching game that makes him an obvious crowd favourite.

Yan is younger than his good friend but his game is more layered. He won the longest frame in Crucible history against Selby last April, an 85-minute grind, and was also completely unfazed by a pigeon landing on the table during the same match.

However, Yan also lost 9-0 to Zhao in their German Masters final, so if anything a lack of consistency seems to be his Achilles’ heel. If he can achieve a more reliable baseline level of performance he could do some real damage.

Kyren Wilson, a top player lacking the titles of those around him in the rankings, made a good start to remedying that by winning the European Masters in Germany last month. Barry Hawkins had played superbly before his form collapsed in the title match, a worrying trend for a player who has now lost six of his nine ranking finals.

Shaun Murphy and Mark Allen have shed so much weight between them this summer that they’ve had to invest in new wardrobes. They remain players who, on any given week, could win any given tournament. What difference will the new healthier approach make? Snooker is not a physical sport but stamina is important, as is mental health, and fitness can do wonders for that.

A familiar question looms over Lisowski: can he finally win a ranking title? Dashingly talented but at times frustratingly erratic, he has done superbly well to bed himself into the elite top 16 without landing a trophy. Lisowski demonstrated genuine steel to beat Robertson at Sheffield and took Higgins to a decider in the quarter-finals, a display which suggested that the next step for him isn’t far away.

A player to watch closely is Hossein Vafaei, Iran’s representative on tour who seems to be improving all the time. He won the Shootout last season and has every chance to end the current campaign as a top 16 player.

Last season we saw unlikely title wins for the little known Chinese player Fan Zhengyi, an out of form Joe Perry and Robert Milkins, whose game seemed to have completely gone before he came good at the Gibraltar Open. There is greater strength in depth through the ranks now than ever, so further success for players down the list often derided as journeymen is entirely possible.

Young talent in Britain is thinner on the ground than it once was but 21 year-old Welshmen Jackson Page and Dylan Emery are both promising prospects. Chinese hopefuls such as Pang Junxu and Wu Yize could also be dangerous.

The problem for everyone is plain: there are only so many tournaments so there can only be so many winners. Plenty of players will produce a high standard but ultimately come away empty-handed.

The snooker season is one long game of thrones, where heart, nerve and luck are all required to weather the various storms a player will face. Some weeks you’re up, some you’re down. Sometimes nothing clicks, and then suddenly it all comes together.

Fans of the sport these days are rewarded with a greater variety of winners, some familiar, some unexpected. These are the players who we now rely on to rebuild snooker’s profile after such a lengthy break. 

I’m a bit surprised that there is no mention of Luca Brecel, Stuart Bingham and Ricky Walden in David’s analysis. Those three are currently in the top 16. Stuart has been a strong presence at the top since he won the World Championship in 2015. Luca is only 27 and has three ranking events to his name. Last season he reached the final of the UK championship and won the Scottish Open. This summer, he has already won the ranking Championship League, the season opener. He could do really well this season. Ricky is also the winner of three ranking events. Back injuries have derailed his career but he is now back in the top 16 and I rate him very high.

Me, I will of course follow the two Belgian rookies: Ben Mertens and Julien Leclercq. Other than those two, I will look at the performances and results of Michael White and Lyu Haotian, two players who showed phenomenal talent as teenagers but whose careers derailed badly because of a combination of external factors and personal issues. I hope that both can finally do their talent justice.

This is how the calendar looks like (without the qualifying rounds except for the World qualifiers)

Championship League – 28 June-29 July, Morningside Arena, Leicester – Winner: Luca Brecel

European Masters – 16-21 August, Stadthalle Fürth, Fuerth, Germany – Winner: Kyren Wilson

World Mixed Doubles – 24-25 September, Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes

British Open – 26 September-2 October, Marshall Arena, Milton Keynes  

Hong Kong Masters – 6-9 October, Hong Kong Coliseum, Hong Kong

Northern Ireland Open – 16-23 October, Waterfront Hall, Belfast

Champion of Champions – 31 October-6 November, University of Bolton Stadium, Bolton

UK Championship – 12-20 November, Barbican Centre, York

Scottish Open – 28 November-4 December, Meadowbank Sports Centre, Edinburgh  

Championship League – 6 December-9 March

English Open – 12-18 December, Brentwood Centre, Brentwood  

The Masters – 8-15 January, Alexandra Palace, London

World Grand Prix – 16-22 January, The Centaur, Cheltenham

Snooker Shoot Out – 26-29 January, Morningside Arena, Leicester  

German Masters – 1-5 February, Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany

Welsh Open – 13-19 February, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Players Championship – 20-26 February, Aldersley Leisure Village, Wolverhampton

Turkish Masters – 13-19 March, Antalya, Turkey

Tour Championship – 27 March-2 April, Bonus Arena, Hull

World Championship qualifiers – 3-12 April, English Institute of Sport, Sheffield

World Championship – 15 April-1 May, Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Events marked in blue have already be played. Events marked in red are non ranking.

Ronnie was interviewed for Eurosport… and the hosts share their own feelings about the interview.

About two weeks ago, Ronnie was interviewed for the Breakdown podcast produced by Orla Chennaoui and Greg Rutherford who both work for Eurosport, as he does himself.

Here is the interview

A lot of what is in there has been heard before. He speaks about his 7th World title, how he detached himself from snooker and how it helps him to actually continue to play, the difficult years after both his parents were sent to jail, his addictions … and more.

Maybe, actually, the most interesting bit is the feedback by the hosts…

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 4

This last part of Ronnie’s big interview is about “snooker politics”

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON ‘CAR CRASH’ POLITICS IN SPORT – ‘SNOOKER BECAME A BIT TOXIC IN MANY WAYS’

“I emotionally untangled myself from the sport probably 10 years ago, in many ways, and I just made snooker work for me,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “I hear a lot of the bottom-ranked players complaining about various things, and the top-ranked players complaining about things; like I said, I feel like snooker became a bit toxic.”

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Ronnie O’Sullivan has opened up about how he felt that ‘snooker became a bit toxic in many ways’ and the level of involvement he now wants to have within the sport.

The 45-year-old, who would love to win a seventh world title in his illustrious career, has spoken candidly about his frustrations with getting involved in the politics of the sport and his current detachment from it.

In 2018, O’Sullivan claimed that he was “ready to go” to form a breakaway “Champions League-style” snooker tour after he said he was unhappy with the number of events on the regular calendar and the travelling required.

Despite saying that he wanted to make positive changes at one point, The Rocket has said that he “emotionally untangled myself from the sport”, and is now happy with just doing his own thing.

To be honest, I emotionally untangled myself from the sport probably 10 years ago, in many ways, and I just made snooker work for me,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.

There was a time where I thought things could be done differently and would be beneficial to everybody on the tour. But when you never got the support of your other players, I just kind of went, ‘You know what, it’s never going to happen‘.

SO NOW, WHEN I HEAR A LOT OF THE BOTTOM-RANKED PLAYERS COMPLAINING ABOUT VARIOUS THINGS, AND THE TOP-RANKED PLAYERS COMPLAINING ABOUT THINGS; LIKE I SAID, I FEEL LIKE SNOOKER BECAME A BIT TOXIC IN MANY WAYS.

O’Sullivan conceded that, while he wanted to make changes, he did not feel as though he could do what he wanted and so has decided to simply see playing snooker as his “hobby” and “as fun”.

There was no unity and we all couldn’t try and get what’s right for all the players,” he said. “So I decided to kind of like disentangle myself from snooker, and it’s better that sort of way because now I do all my other stuff with all my sponsors and that’s all great.

I kind of see that as what I do for a living, if you like, and I enjoy to do that, and I just play snooker as a hobby, as fun. I enjoy playing, but by doing that I don’t want to have an opinion.

I don’t want to feel like this can be changed and, in many ways – and it’s probably not good thing – I hope it actually sometimes gets worse, because I think sometimes you can see the car crash happening. But unless people want to sort of unite, I suppose in many ways, then the car crash will just keep on continuing to happen.

I’d rather not be emotionally involved in that, because I’ve got the utmost respect for any snooker player that plays on the tour, and you’re just fighting for them in many ways. But at some point you’ve kind of got to go, ‘It’s not working, I’m better off just being quite tunnel vision about what’s right for me and doing what’s right for me, and just taking the best bits from it’.

I’ve never been so happy, really, because I love snooker and I love playing, but it wouldn’t be good for me to get involved in the politics or even having an opinion on what I think would be good for the game because it’s pretty pointless, really.”

So, Ronnie is disillusioned about “snooker politics”. Surely he’s not alone. In the past he has often spoken against the views of the governing body, and been accused of “hurting” his sport. He has not always been right, but he has not always been wrong either, far from it. Some fans are convinced that he hates his sport, and he has said that he hates snooker a number of times in the past. But then, he has suffered, still suffers,  from mood swings and severe bouts of depression and I guess that when he is in the middle of a “low” he probably hates everything about his life…

The truth however is that he loves his sport, as Alan McManus explained during his interview with Phil Haigh and Nick Metcalfe:

Alan McManus reveals the side of Ronnie O’Sullivan he’s ‘lucky to see’ behind the scenes

SmilingRonnie
Ronnie O’Sullivan (Picture: Getty Images)

Alan McManus has the pleasure of working with Ronnie O’Sullivan in their roles as television pundits, and while the Scot knows when to ‘back off and not engage’ he says he is lucky to see the Rocket hugely passionate about the game he loves.

McManus and O’Sullivan were colleagues in the Eurosport studio at the Northern Ireland Open in Belfast earlier this month after the Rocket was beaten by Yan Bingtao in the last 16.

Earlier in the tournament O’Sullivan had criticised the atmosphere at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast, saying he was ‘very bored’ and he ‘wasn’t really bothered he he won or lost,’ after beating Andy Hicks in round two.

Angles says that when the six-time world champion is in that kind of mood, he chooses to just leave him to it, although he then gets to see the other side of O’Sullivan later in the event.

The Rocket went from downbeat to quite perky after he was eliminated from the tournament and McManus had a great experience with him as they watched the climax of the event.

McManus told the Talking Snooker podcast: ‘Sometimes, I think if he’s in that sort of mood and he doesn’t want to engage in a positive way about the snooker or whatever he’s talking about, I just think, “I’ll back off and not engage with him.”

If he doesn’t want to talk about it he’s not gonna.

The flip side of that, of course, is when he’s really up for it. I’ll say this…later in the week, Ronnie had lost, so he had a couple of days in the studio.

We were watching the matches and he’s into it, he loves it. John [Higgins] was doing some special things and he was loving it, he loves the game.

‘I’m lucky I get to see that side of things and he really loves it.

McManus also enjoyed O’Sullivan’s humble side, surprised to see the 37-time ranking event winner asking how players pulled off shots that surely he could also manage.

We sit and have a laugh when somebody plays a good shot. It’s actually ridiculous because he’s rolling about laughing after a good shot, going: “How did he do that?

World Snooker Championship - Day 14
Alan McManus (Picture: Getty Images)

But you think, well…oh, it doesn’t matter Ronnie. But he’s a snooker fan. He’s engaging, he can be a bit up and down, but who can’t in other ways?

Ronnie chooses to be a bit up and down in press things or on camera or whatever but at the end of the day he’s a big snooker fan and he loves it, and why not? He’s quite good.

He’s a good guy, he’s alright, you know. I really like him.’

 

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 3

Ronnie spoke to Eurosport about who is currently at the top of the sport and where the “class of 92” now stands

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: ‘LIKE ROGER FEDERER AND RAFAEL NADAL’ – THE ROCKET ON THE ‘TWO DIVISIONS’ IN SNOOKER ELITE

“I would probably narrow it down into maybe two divisions now,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “I think you’d have to say Selby, Trump and possibly Robertson, you could say that they are the three strongest players. I think outside of that, then you put me, John Higgins and Mark Williams, just because of the age.”

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Ronnie O’Sullivan Image credit: Eurosport

Ronnie O’Sullivan has claimed that there are two divisions at the top of snooker’s elite and identified the big-name players who fit in each category.

The 45-year-old, who has six world titles to his name, had himself in the second division, along with fellow legends John Higgins and Mark Williams, while he said Judd Trump, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson were in the top tier.

The Rocket compared himself, Higgins and Williams to tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in terms of still being able to compete at the top level despite no longer being in their prime years.

I would probably narrow it down into maybe two divisions now,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.
“I think you’d have to say Selby, Trump and possibly Robertson, you could say that they are the three strongest players. I think outside of that, then you put me, John Higgins and Mark Williams, just because of the age.

Because at my age now, if I win a tournament, or at least put my heart and soul into it, it takes me three or four days just to sort of recover again to be able to go again. Whereas maybe seven, eight years ago I could win the World Championship and then wake up the next day and think, ‘I could do that again’.

You know, and as you get older, you don’t have the powers of concentration or sustainability. So I think those three are in their prime and once you hit 43, 44 it gets a lot harder.

WE’VE KIND OF BEEN OKAY, BECAUSE WE CAME FROM THAT SPECIAL ERA WHERE, LIKE FEDERER AND NADAL, 70% IS STILL GOOD ENOUGH TO COMPETE.

I think that is what is getting us by at the moment, but I don’t know how much longer that can go on for.

So I think I would probably break that down into two divisions: Selby, Trump, Robertson – just because of their age, not because of their ability to play the game, but just that they’re able to concentrate and recover one match after another a lot better than say, me, Williams or Higgins would.

O’Sullivan also had his say on the tournaments that really matter to him and made it abundantly clear that the World Championship remains the pinnacle and worth “five mediocre events” in his mind.

The Triple Crowns, they are the three big tournaments, that is where the most pressure is. That is where the top players usually thrive and they never change, a bit like the Masters [golf], the four majors, you can always judge Jack Nicklaus with Tiger Woods because of the amount of majors.

JUDD WOULD SWAP – I KNOW HE WOULD SWAP – WITH SELBY BECAUSE THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP IS THE ONE THAT EVERYBODY WANTS TO WIN.  

There is of course a lot of truth in there… no matter what Judd Trump says.

Despite Ronnie’s perception that he is now in “second division”, Alan Mc Manus still rates him as the best player of all times.

Alan McManus names his top six snooker players of all time: ‘As far as the greatest, obviously Ronnie is’

Alan McManus at the Coral Northern Ireland Open 2016.
Alan McManus has picked out the best to ever play snooker (Picture: Getty Images)

Alan McManus feels that Ronnie O’Sullivan is ‘obviously’ the greatest snooker player of all time, but Stephen Hendry’s achievements should not be forgotten and they are unlikely to ever be repeated.

O’Sullivan is regularly named as the greatest player to ever pick up a cue, although there are still some votes from people in the sport for Hendry and John Higgins.

McManus is in the Rocket’s camp on this one, but is blown away by both his fellow Scots, who he feels come in at joint-second on his GOAT list.

Time’s a great healer of memory, people forget about Stephen and the things he did,’ McManus told the Talking Snooker podcast.

First of all, when’s the next time someone’s going to win the Masters at the first five goes? It’s easy to forget.

Who’s going to win the Crucible five times on the spin? Probably no one, it ain’t going to happen. But he did it and he did it because he was unbelievably good.

John’s a different kind of good, he’s got the whole package, technically he’s unbelievably good, but the other thing that John developed was the snooker brain, it’s like a chess Grand Master or a piano player, it just makes sense to him.

When you’ve got that technique and that bottle, there’s no weakness, he’s very difficult to handle.

As far as the greatest, obviously Ronnie is, I’d put Stephen and John almost shoulder-to-shoulder.’

Most ranking title wins

Ronnie O’Sullivan 37
Stephen Hendry 36
John Higgins 31
Steve Davis 28
Mark Williams 24
Judd Trump 22
Neil Robertson 20
Mark Selby 20
Ding Junhui 14

Angles was pretty clear on an O’Sullivan, Higgins and Hendry top three, and slotted in Steve Davis at number four fairly confidently, but struggled to split the two names he has battling for fifth spot.

For me…oo dear this is very difficult,’ said McManus on rounding off his top five. ‘I would say those three then Steve Davis has got to be in there, for many reasons I won’t go into.

Then probably Mark Selby and Mark Williams, one of those two.

Probably Mark Williams maybe, just because he’s been around longer but I don’t know. I’m sure that everyone of them are glad to be in the shake-up.

Mark Selby and Mark Williams at the Betfred World Snooker Championships.
Mark Selby beat Mark Williams en route to a fourth world title this year (Picture: Getty Images).

By ranking titles, Williams beats Selby by 24-20, but the Englishman has picked up four World Championship titles to the Welshman’s four.

Selby has also picked up one more Masters title than the Welsh Potting Machine, but longevity, of course, goes to Williams.

The veteran won his first ranking title at the Welsh Open in 1996 and his most recent one in August this year at the British Open.

The Jester from Leicester achieved up his first ranking triumph 12 years after Williams’ first, with his most recent coming at the Crucible in May when he won a fourth world title.

I know someone who isn’t probably too happy because he’s not even in the conversation…

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 2

Here is another topic discussed by Ronnie in his big interview, this time reported by Phil Haigh

Ronnie O’Sullivan claims nine-ball pool is his ‘little secret’ to snooker success

Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Betfred World Snooker Championship.
Ronnie O’Sullivan reckons an unlikely source has been behind some of his snooker success (Picture: Getty Images)

Ronnie O’Sullivan has revealed that playing pool is ‘a little secret’ behind some of his snooker success and has encouraged players of all cue sports to take up a variety of disciplines.

The Rocket has a bit of history with nine-ball pool, playing for Team Europe in the 1996 Mosconi Cup, and he says that the smaller table has helped him to his unprecedented levels of success in snooker.

The six-time world champion and 37-time ranking event winner says that pool practice is his ‘little secret’ to finding his best form on the snooker table, and hes explained why.

‘It is a little secret I let people in on, I actually played some of my best snooker because I played nine-ball pool,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.

You are playing on a smaller table and trying to pot a ball over 12 foot is a lot – a long ball over 12 foot is quite a hard thing to do. But when you get an a pool table, you start potting long balls on a nine-foot table, it’s just like, you stop fearing the long distance as much.

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O’Sullivan won a sixth World Snooker Championship title in 2020 (Picture: Getty Images)

In some ways, you have to use different techniques on the pool table, which you can then bring to the snooker table.

I think I learned a lot and played some of my best snooker through playing nine-ball pool.’

The 45-year-old has advised players of various cue sports to have a crack at other disciplines so they can develop their games most effectively.

I always think there is a good crossover between playing a bit of nine-ball pool, a bit of billiards and a bit of snooker. Because there are crossovers,’ he continued.

It’s like being a pool player, a lot of pool players would be better pool players, if they had played a bit more snooker because it would tighten their technique up a bit.

This is not so secret. Players of the past often played both billiards and snooker for instance, and some old-school coaches still advice the debutants to try themselves at billiards, as it’s a good way to learn how to control the cue ball, and how angles, spin and trajectories work. Some of Jimmy White’s signature shots are billiards shots.

 

 

Ronnie’s big interview ahead of the 2021 English Open – Part 1

Eurosport did a long interview with Ronnie, ahead of the coming English Open and they have publised several “teaser pieces” touching on various themes that they discussed with the six times World Champion. Here goes for part 1

Please read with an open mind beyond the headlines and up to the last line before reacting and commenting.

About the youngsters on the tour

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ‘BAFFLED’ BY ‘EGOS’ OF SNOOKER’S NEXT GEN – ‘THEY BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES A BIT TOO MUCH’

Some of the people I see on the tour, I wonder how they actually got there. Where do they find them, you know?” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “They are very inexperienced, they probably believe in themselves a bit too much for how good they are, and that can be a dangerous thing.

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Ronnie O’Sullivan has explained why he is so ‘baffled’ by the next generation of snooker players arriving in the sport, and believes a lot of the issues stem from ego and a false sense of self-belief.

The 45-year-old, who has six world titles to his name, has long since doubted the credentials of the younger stars emerging without having much experience in the amateur or youth ranks before hitting the professional circuit.

O’Sullivan has admitted that he has not been overly impressed with the crop coming through and has observed that “they probably believe in themselves a bit too much for how good they are“.

There are a lot of good players, but I think the problem with snooker now is the issue that I see with a lot of players,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.

They come in, they haven’t really had an amateur or junior background and they turn professional and the ego kicks in: ‘I’m a professional playing Mark Williams in the first round’, and they’re not really that good.

With some of these guys, they just turn up now because it’s open to anybody, really. They get peppered for the whole year and it’s very hard to then kind of like squash that ego.

[Looking back] I think when you’re a kid, week-in, week-out, playing pro-ams, you might be in one week and you got beat the next two or three weeks and your ego was kept in check because you had a respect for the game and the players and the level to play at.

SOME OF THE PEOPLE I SEE ON THE TOUR, I WONDER HOW THEY ACTUALLY GOT THERE. WHERE DO THEY FIND THEM, YOU KNOW?

They have no experience at amateur or junior level in some instances… honestly, I don’t know. It baffles me. That’s one of the reasons I don’t watch it.

I do watch a lot of snooker but I don’t watch the modern day snooker because I think years ago, when you were a pro, you had earned the right to be a pro and basically had earned your stripes. Whereas now it’s just open to anybody. So yeah, it’s a tricky one. It is what it is.

I think me, [Mark] Williams and [John] Higgins, we’re already past our best, you know, physically, mentally, we’re not the players we probably were six, seven, eight, 10, 15 years ago, there’s no chance.

But what we do have is the experience, the pedigree, the ability to have faith in our ability; we haven’t come from this privileged sort of background, we’ve kind of had to go through the junior, the amateur circuit, we’ve had to be beaten, our egos put into place.

So that kind of creates a character for a player, if you like, and the character that Williams and Higgins have got has come from a culmination of putting themselves through the hard yards.

Today, there are a lot of players that are really good players, but they haven’t got that foundation, they haven’t gone through those stages to make them a player that’s going to be around for a long time.

THEY ARE VERY INEXPERIENCED, THEY PROBABLY BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES A BIT TOO MUCH FOR HOW GOOD THEY ARE, AND THAT CAN BE A DANGEROUS THING.

I’d rather be a player that thinks he’s not as good as he actually is, whereas on the tour now you get a lot of players that think they’re better than they actually are, and that for me is the problem. Because that is a dangerous way of thinking, and you can only get true character if you have experienced all levels of the game and appreciate it.

So in many ways, I think Higgins and Williams and me are around just because of that pedigree, not because we’re the best or we’re the youngest or the fittest, just that we’ve got a bit more to fall back on in many ways.

I’m not sure why Ronnie (still) believes that the game is open to anybody, because even if that was the case when he turned pro,  it’s no more like that and it hasn’t been like that for a very long time.

Other than that, I think that he’s mainly right in his assesment, but what he fails to do, is to reflect and point out how and why we got to this situation. 

The core of the problem is indeed that the amateur game has gone backwards, whilst, at the top, the professional game is stronger than ever. The gap between amateurs and top professionals has widened.

There are many reasons for that and Barry Hearn is partly responsible for creating this situation. Let me explain.

When the “class of 92” turned pro the game was indeed open to anybody able and willing to pay a fee to become a professional. It was however a recent situation, the game was “opened” in 1991. This means that, until 1991, players like Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon, for instance, were amateurs, despite being better that most of the professionals at the time. The amateur scene was massive, with lots of quality events. Ronnie and Mark Williams have often spoken about how they were playing every week in amateur events, and they were quality events. As juniors, they had the opportunity to play the likes of Doherty, Ebdon, Parrott … and they learned a lot from them.

It’s all diffrent now, and the young amateurs are mainly playing amongst themselves, never or very rarely exposed to the level of the professional game. The best of them dominate that amateur scene and indeed may, and actually often will, develop a perception that they are amongst the best, something that transpires in their quotes, right after earning their first tour card. They are the best, but only in their peers’ group. The professiomal circuit is something else entirely and they are not prepared for it, neither “technically”, nor mentally.

They are not helped by the way the system has been shaped by Barry Hearn. Since the disappearence of the tiered system, there is no progressivity, no development path. All of a sudden, from being serial winners amongst the amateurs, they become serial losers amongst the pros. It’s hard, it hurts, and many – I would even say most – go from being over-confident to being completely dispirited, depressed and feeling worthless. A return to the tiered system is needed, maybe not in all events, but in most.

It doesn’t help them either that they struggle badly financially. The whole “rewarding” system is far too top heavy. I have written this before, and I will write it again here: you need two to play a match of snooker, by playing both players bring value to the tournament, the sponsors, the venue, the broadcaster, WST and the watching fans. They deserve something for their work. They are professionals. At the very minimum, doing their job should not cost them. First round losers should get paid at least enough to cover their basic “professional” expenses.

Barry Hearn also has a responsibilities in the decline of the amateur scene. There are several factors to consider here.

First, when he created the PTCs, that were actually pro-ams, it attracted a lot of amateurs, lured by the prospect of meeting and playing the best in the world, and the possiblity to gain a tour car via this route. As far as I remember, the latter never happened. Playing in those PTCs was not cheap, it was also time consuming. As a result, other pro-ams, some of them with a long history, were disregarded and many disappeared. When the PTCs were ditched, they didn’t re-appear…

Next, Worldsnooker/WST negotiated contracts with top broadcasters, and we have more snooker on our screens than ever. I’m not complaining about that. However, I believe that things went too far when it comes to “exclusive rights”. When a charity event, happening in the middle of the summer, with no pro event on, is asked to stop streaming the one main table because they were not granted permission by Worldsnooker, and participating pros would be in breach of contract… something is not right. When qualifiers for the Seniors tour – that can do with as much exposure it can get – are restricted to stream matches for the same reason something is not right, especially when WST itself has agreed on the right for older lower ranked pros to play in these events. Surely a more reasonable agreement on these issues can be negotiated with broadcasters? Because, in this age of  ubiquitous social media, being able to stream is a key factor in any amateur event prospect to succeed and survive.

And finally, on a normal year, the professional calendar is so full, with so little down-time in the summert that pros have neither the time, nor the energy to participate in pro-ams anymore. This renders these pro-ams less attractive, to both the public and the amateur players, but more importantly, it also means that they no more provide the amateurs competing in them the opportunity to pit themselves against pros and learn from that experience.

Don’t get me wrong, Barry Hearn worked wonders for snooker and I’m grateful for it, but not everything he did was right. The only people who are always right are those who do nothing. But when something isn’t right, and problems are identified, changes are needed.

And, one last point that I won’t discuss again here, but will still mention: the main professional qualifying route, the Q-School is inadequate.

 

 

Ronnie speaks to Eurosport as he is at the start of his 30th season as a pro

Here is the interview:

RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ON 30 YEARS AT TOP – ‘I FEEL PRIVILEGED TO HAVE HAD THE OPPORTUNITIES

Six-times world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan will celebrate an astonishing 30 years at the summit of snooker in 2022. The sport’s greatest player has told Eurosport he appreciates the opportunities he has been given in life since turning professional at the age of 16 in 1992. He is also thankful for the support of his partner Laila Rouass and family as he continues to chase new horizons in the game.

Ronnie O’Sullivan will celebrate 30 years at the summit of professional snooker in January, but the game’s greatest player admits he has been fortunate to have been afforded the opportunities in life to reach green baize utopia.

The six-times world champion holds the vast majority of the key records as he begins his 30th season ranked at number three in the world, but it his speed, flamboyance and precision of play that has attracted millions of bewitched fans to the sport over the past four decades.

The numbers stacked up by O’Sullivan are quite astonishing since he set out on his unprecedented golden sojourn at the age of 16 in 1992.

  • 37 – most ranking titles won by any player in history achieved in claiming 2020 World Championship
  • 15 – record number of maximums made in competition
  • Five minutes and eight seconds – fastest competitive maximum compiled at 1997 World Championship
  • 17 years and 358 days – youngest winner of a ranking event at 1993 UK Championship
  • 19 years and 69 days – youngest winner of the Masters in 1995
    1000 – first player to reach 1,000 career centuries at 2019 Players Championship
  • 29 – record number of consecutive appearances at World Championship between 1993 and 2021
  • 58 – record number of ranking final appearances achieved at 2021 Tour Championship final
  • 556 – record number of points scored without reply in 6-0 win over Ricky Walden in 2014 Masters quarter-final lasting 58min 31sec
  • 7 – record number of UK titles
  • 7 – record number of Masters titles
  • 20 – record number of triple crown titles

O’Sullivan made his first century at the age of 10 and his first 147 five years later, but shows no signs of slowing up with Judd Trump recently predicting that he has another decade at the top if he has the desire to continue.

I feel privileged to have had the opportunities that I’ve had,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport.

SO I CAN’T SAY THAT I’VE BEEN UNLUCKY. I’VE OBVIOUSLY HAD TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THOSE PRIVILEGES, BUT THEY WERE GIVEN TO ME AND I’VE PROBABLY HAD A MUCH BETTER HEAD START THAN A LOT OF YOUNG KIDS.

“I was fortunate that my mum and dad did okay for themselves and were able to pay for my cab fares to the club, my table time and allow me to go away at weekends to play in competitions.

“Some kids don’t have that luxury. I think in that respect, I had a good opportunity, but had to make the most of it.

O’Sullivan admits one of the career highlights was celebrating lifting his sixth world title alongside his partner Laila Rouass at the Crucible after an 18-8 win over Kyren Wilson in the final.

We had such a good night,” he recalled. “After the final, we went back to the hotel, there was about 30 or 40 people in the hotel.

We had a fantastic evening. It was probably the best night I’ve ever had.

WE HAD KEBABS, BEER AND SAT OUTSIDE UNTIL ABOUT FOUR IN THE MORNING. (FORMER WORLD NUMBER TWO) TONY KNOWLES WAS THERE AND A FEW OF MY FRIENDS FROM LIVERPOOL WERE DOWN. WE HAD SUCH A LAUGH. I’VE LOVED TO ABLE TO EXPERIENCE THAT AGAIN.

That’s a really lovely interview and Ronnie seems to be in a good place. Hopefully this season is a good one.